Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Grow Where You're Planted

1 Corinthians 7:14-24

Teaching t05404


Reminder of context: domestic questions posed by Corinthians

Paul is a master counselor. He responds to these questions by reminding them of biblical moral absolutes (like the proper place for sex), by alerting them to impending developments ("impending distress"), and by referring to broader biblical principles. In vs 17-24, Paul enunciates the main principle from which he counsels in this passage . . . 

The Principle

Read vs 17-24. Three times (vs 17,20,24) Paul makes his point, and vs 17b makes it clear that this is a universally relevant principle. STATE PRINCIPLE: Grow where you're planted. We should accept our present life-situation and focus on serving God within it.

He is not talking about moral or spiritual change—clearly God has radical change in mind in these areas. Rather, he applies it to life-situation issues that were pressing to them: ETHNO-CULTURAL ORIENTATION; SLAVERY; MARITAL STATUS.

On the other hand, it is equally clear that Paul views this as a principle, not an absolute. In other words, there are valid exceptions to this principle. We know this because he acknowledges exceptions to this principle in each of the areas he mentions: MARITAL STATUS (7:26-28); SLAVE STATUS (7:21b); ETHNO-CULTURAL ORIENTATION (9:19-21; Acts 16:3).

So how can we apply this principle? What good is a principle that has exceptions? It has primary application for both those life-situations which we cannot easily change, and secondary application for those which we can easily change . . . 

Adverse life-situations need not prevent you from having a successful & fulfilling life.

Evidently, the Corinthian Christians were being told that unless they could change their life-situations, they were doomed to a life of second-class spiritual citizenship (NO MARRIAGE OR SEX W/IN MARRIAGE; JEW/GENTILE SPIRITUAL BIGOTRY; SLAVES AS SPIRITUALLY INFERIOR). In most of these issues, they were not in a position to change (SLAVE MANUMISSION). In others, the change would have been very costly (FORCED CELIBACY; UNCIRCUMCISION). You can imagine the discouragement some of them must have felt as a result.

This mentality is still around today. Sometimes it comes from the religious world in the form of unbiblical views of spirituality (CATHOLIC CELIBATE CLERGY; DIVORCEES IN FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCHES; ONLY "FULL-TIME" CHRISTIAN SERVICE IS TRULY SPIRITUAL; HEALTHY/CHRISTIAN UPBRINGING). Sometimes it comes from the secular world (RACE &/OR ETHNIC BACKGROUND; PHYSICAL BEAUTY; OLD AGE; EDUCATIONAL CREDENTIALS; WEALTH; SINGLE PARENT; HOUSEWIFE). I wonder how many of us spend considerable time comparing ourselves to others and concluding that we can't have a successful Christian life.

Paul completely rejects this mentality for three reasons:

Because fulfillment and success come from knowing and serving God. And we can do this regardless of our life-situations. That's why he says one's ethno-cultural orientation is "nothing"—what matters is following God's will, and they can do that regardless of whether we're Jewish or Gentile (vs 18,19). Likewise, he rejects the idea that only non-slaves can have a significant spiritual life. Christian slaves are already free (vs 22,23a) in the most profound sense. Christ had already paid their ransom, [1] and they are already free from the penalty and authority of sin and free to follow God's moral will.

Because God is sovereignly involved in our life-situations to advance his purposes. This is why Paul refers to their life-situations as "God's assignment" (vs 17) and God's "calling" (vs 20: "condition"). He is mysteriously at work in the circumstances of our lives to advance his purpose and our good (Rom. 8:28). God was sovereignly involved even the life-situations of our pre-Christian lives. Just as he providentially worked through it to bring you to Christ, he can also providentially work through it for your growth and service (JOSEPH; JONI EARICKSON).

Because God is personally present to empower us in all our life-situations. This is why Paul speaks of remaining "with God" in the situation in which we are called (vs 24). Through the Holy Spirit, he indwells each of us and is able to impart strength to cope victoriously with all that life throws at us, and to guide us in how we can grow and serve him in every situation.

Therefore, none of these things matter in the most important area of life: loving and serving God. Knowing him causes these matters to fade into relative insignificance. You can be and do the most important things in life in whatever station in life you have. God is able to work in these very situations to accomplish great things and bring us great fulfillment. Don't believe the lie that your life is doomed to second best because you can't change these things!

GOSPEL: God wants you to be free from the bondage of looking to uncontrollable circumstances for fulfillment and meaning in life. He made you to get this from a relationship with him! Admit that you've been looking in the wrong places, and receive Christ!

Re-evaluate the way you make changes in your life-situation.

We live in a culture which makes unparalleled options available (EXAMPLES), and therefore views life-situation changes in an essentially positive light (burden of proof on those who disagree rather than vice-versa). In many ways, this is a good thing. I know I certainly prefer to have greater freedom to marry who I choose, live where I choose, pursue the career I choose, etc. But there are also some liabilities of which we need to be aware. God has a very different perspective for how we consider change in these areas, and we need to adopt his perspective. Consider the following questions . . . 

Have you learned what God wants to teach you in your present situation? This question is rooted in the assumption that God has been sovereignly involved in your present situation, especially in the difficulties pertaining to it, to mature you (Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3,4; Heb. 12).

The fact is, many of us believe that happiness/fulfillment is primarily a function of our circumstances, and therefore the best thing to do when your circumstances are difficult is to run from them into what looks like better circumstances.

Are your boss or co-workers difficult to deal with? Quit and get a different job. Are you lonely as a single person? Get married to the first person who is willing, even if they are uninterested in God's will. Is your marriage distressed? Get a divorce. Do you dislike Columbus weather? Move to Arizona. Some of us are driven through life by this "The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill" mentality.

It may in fact be wise to make some of these changes, but it shouldn't be primarily because you are experiencing difficulty in your present situation, or because you subscribe to the GREENER GRASS philosophy. If you follow this logic, you will develop the habit of running from difficult situations, and consequently you will miss much of what God wants to teach you through your present situation. God says fulfillment is primarily a function of trusting him and allowing him to change our character and values—and he often does this best in difficult situations. Can you even articulate what God has been trying to teach you in this situation? Can you say you have (substantially) learned it?

SINGLENESS: Unless you have the gift of celibacy, marriage is a proper goal. But focus more on becoming the right person than on finding the right person. You need to develop the ability to practice agape love in close relationships. You will need all the character development you can get to forge a successful marriage. Learn deeper lessons about trusting God to be your source of security and identity, to provide a spiritual spouse instead of taking matters into your own hands.

MARRIAGE: As we saw last week, there are valid reasons for deciding for divorce. But often, there is no compelling basis—the marriage has simply gotten more difficult than you anticipated and you simply want out ("I don't have to put up with this!"). Is it possible that you need to focus more on what God is trying to show you about your own character deficiencies (SELFISHNESS; UNFORGIVENESS, etc.) instead of on your spouse's faults?

JOB:There are many valid reasons for changing jobs. But there are also invalid reasons. Do you have a problem respecting and submitting to authority? This will follow you to your next job. Do you have a problem with working hard? This is a character issue which will affect your job satisfaction wherever you work.

How can you know if you have done this? You are able to articulate the lessons you have learned. When you have done this, your whole perspective on the situation changes. Instead of being restless, resentful and covetous, you are able to be relatively content. This is because you have experienced on a deeper level that God's will for your life (and your fulfillment) is not being thwarted, and because you have seen him provide you with peace and hope and joy (Phil. 4:12>>13,19). Sometimes, you decide not to change your situation. Sometimes, God opens up a door for situational change at this point.

What values are determinative in your decision? We all have reasons for making changes in these areas. The main reason for most of us is that we believe these changes will expedite the accomplishment of what we value most. But do you have the right values?

We live in a world-system which tells us our highest values should be material wealth, sensual pleasure and short-term gratification, and fame with/power over others. But while God affirms that these things can be legitimately enjoyed, he rejects these as unworthy goals for our lives. He says our highest values should center around knowing and serving him: things like advancing in our knowledge of his word, having our characters transformed, being equipped for and playing a role of service in advancing his kingdom (Mk. 8:34-36).

Sometimes, we can "have our cake and eat it too." But usually we cannot. Usually we will have to choose between pursuing his values and the world's. The immature Christian is still dominated by the values of the world and allows them to be the basis for important life-situation decisions. But the spiritually-minded Christian is operating on another basis: spiritual expedience (DEFINE).

I am disturbed by the number of Christians (including in this church) who routinely make major life-situation decisions without seriously considering their spiritual expedience.

JOB: Why are you taking that job?"Because it pays more money, is more in line with what I like doing, and has greater advancement potential." These are certainly valid reasons for considering the change—but what about other issues? What about how it will affect your time for involvement in spiritual growth and ministry? Have you ever turned down a job because it was too costly to your spiritual life? [2]

GEOGRAPHICAL MOVE: Why are you moving? "Because I've always planned to, I like that area of the country better, I have relatives there, the job seems better." Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these things—but what about other issues? Do you know you will have as good or better opportunity for spiritual growth, equipping, and service? How much have you prayerfully considered these matters?

MARRIAGE: Why are you marrying this person? "Because I am in love, I am lonely, etc." These are valid considerations, but what about more important issues? Is he/she a committed Christian (are you?)? Do you have common goals for serving God? Have you seen evidence that you can serve God better together than alone? Has your relationship enhanced or hindered your walks with God?

You have the freedom to make all of these decisions, but you also bear the responsibility and will face the consequences for them. Learn to choose prayerfully and wisely (2 COLUMNS)!! This is why seeking counsel from mature Christians is so helpful (PROVERBS; they know biblical priorities, have experience, see implications, etc.).

What if you have made some poor decisions? Remember God's grace! He still accepts you, and is ready to teach you and work with you where you are . . . get up and press on!


[1] "In the ancient world it was possible for a slave at a great effort to purchase his own freedom . . . In the little spare time he had, he took odd jobs and earned a few coppers. His master had the right to claim commission even on these poor earnings. But the slave would deposit every farthing he could earn in the temple of some god. When, it might be at the end of years, he had his complete purchase laid up in the temple, he would take his master there, the priest would hand over the money, and then symbolically the slave would become the property of the god and therefore free of all men. That was what Paul was thinking of. The Christian man has been purchased by Christ; and therefore, no matter what his human may be, he is free of all men because he is the property of Christ." William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p. 65.

[2] "(American Christians') primary goals (are) gaining financial security and social position. They (want) to be pious enough to be prosperous. But the church (is) not the hub of their lives; it (is) a spoke on the edge of their concerns. It (is) not the mission station out of which their kingdom vocation was discerned and supported, but a therapy center supporting their `careers' . . . American society . . . trains us to be patriotic consumer-producers." Richard Lovelace, Renewal As a Way of Life(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), pp. 167,168.